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Fear of the Future and the Need for Meaning, 2

June 27th, 2016 · fear of the future

In Part 1 of “Fear of the Future”, we saw in general terms how discovery of personal meaning can help the individual face the reality of fear.

fear of the future

                          …Or, is there an alternative?

Here, we’ll look concretely at what it might mean to find meaning that could help to overcome the effect of fear.
This past week has seen particular manifestations of the power of fear, in the success of the “Leave” vote in the so-called Brexit referendum concerning whether Britain is to remain in the European Union.  Suffice it to say that the drivers behind this decision, which many Britons already regret, are very powerful fears of many types.  The power of these fears to drive an outcome that, really, very few people want, is staggering.
So, how can a sense of underlying meaning possibly help in such a situation?  And just what is meaning?

Meaning is Subjective

Jung, like Viktor Frankl, viewed meaning as central to his life as person and as therapist. He saw it as central to our wrestling with the challenges and dilemmas of being human, including good and evil and suffering.  However, he would never speak of “the meaning of life” as if there was some objective single truth out there that we could all learn, and that would somehow settle all of life’s questions for the whole human race.  For him, the nature of that meaning was much more individual and subjective.  He also viewed the discovery of meaning in human life as an experience of profound healing.

Human Beings Suffer When There Is No Meaning

Jung also tells us that one of the very greatest of sources of human suffering is the sense of lack of meaning, that the things which occur to us are pointless and random, without any inner sense.  In fact,  he described neurosis as “ultimately… the suffering of a soul that has not discovered its meaning.”  He describes how important it is that “the doctor” (by which he means what we would call “the therapist“) help the client find “the meaning that quickens… for it is this that the [suffering] person longs for….  [The client] is looking for something that will take possession of him and give meaning and form to the confusion of [his or her] soul.”

fear of the future

The Discovery of Meaning

A thing which is “numinous” has a sense of awe attached to it that makes it seem more profound and important than everyday life.  It can be something that seems “divine”, or of a profound spiritual significance, or of an importance greater than what we encounter in everyday human life.  Something that has a significance far greater than even our fear of the future.  An example in music which points to the numinous, yet without a religious reference, would be Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man:

 

 

Meaning and Personal Myth

As depth psychotherapist James Hillman reminds us, meaning is found in our “personal myth”.  To find our personal myth is to find the way that our personal, individual story connects with Story.  Or, as Hillman elaborates,

…to understand one’s mess, one seeks the mythical pattern, for its mythical personalities… and their behaviour give the clues to what is happening in our behaviour.

By finding our own personal myth, through working with dreams and through coming to a more and more in-depth understanding of our own inner life and story, each of us gains a sense of being rooted in something that is bigger and deeper than the projects of the ego, and that transcends our personal fear of the future.

…And What About You and I?

Where does fear of the future strike you most strongly?  Do you have a sense of where you find meaning, or of your personal myth?  As James Hollis tells us, “Most people come into therapy because their old map, their former myth, has been exhausted.”  Depth psychotherapy is very much a journey to new meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Fear of the Future and the Archetype of Meaning

June 20th, 2016 · fear of the future

We live in a time when fear of the future is rampant, colouring our individual, family, social and political lives.  Can psychotherapy help us cope?

fear of the future

To understand the size of the problem that fear creates, we need only look at its impact on our social and political lives.  We see fear, and the hatred which often goes with it, in the rise of fear-based social and political movements such as:
  • the rise of fascist-leaning, anti-immigrant political movements in many countries in continental Europe;
  • the rise of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, empirically unsupported, finding their way into universities like Queen’s, one of Canada’s finest educational institutions;
  • Donald Trump, and his fear-mongering against blacks, hispanics and Muslims;
  • the “Brexit” movement for exit of Britain from the European Union, which is fanned by fear of waves of immigration from the continent of immigrants originating from the Middle East.
Depth psychotherapists know that symbolic images of fear of the future also abound in popular culture.  Perhaps some of the most striking symbolisation of such fear is the “zombie apocalypse” or “living dead” theme, which so captures the popular imagination, both in humour and terror.  Another symbolic image of fear of the future is the “demon seed” or “demon child” motif.

Why is There So Much Fear Now?

There are many potential sources of fear in 2016.  There is great economic uncertainty.  Some fear multi-cultural societies full of people different than themselves, and news reports of great waves of homeless refugees.  And, we have news sources like CNN, with its strategy of gaining viewers through continuous bombardment of the viewer with anxiety and fear-provoking images (How many times did they show the World Trade Center towers collapsing?).  These media also stress themes that provoke continual anxiety.

fear of the future

Where Fear of the Future Fits into Psyche

One of the things that apparently differentiates us from most animal species is that we have the ability to create anxiety for ourselves through  building a mental scenario or picture of something that could occur in the future.  As researchers like Newcastle University neuroscience Prof. Melissa Bateson et al. have shown, anxiety and fear are linked to hypersensitivity in detecting and avoiding threats. So this process of being fearful likely enabled our ancestors to survive and thrive as a species, by being hyper-cautious at even the faintest trace of a threat.

anxious-early-human

Where Fear Doesn’t Fit

So, there is tremendous survival value in our capacity for fear, in that we can anticipate and predict future dangerous situations, and we can somehow tie this in, consciously and unconsciously, with our experience of past events where we have had misfortune or bad outcomes.  This ability has undoubtedly contributed enormously to our ability to be the incredibly successful species that we are today.  Our sophisticated human fear has steered us clear of many a fatal risk, at the comparatively light cost of stress and missed opportunities.

Yet, there is a significant downside to all of this.

Most non-human animals know anxiety, but apparently not about events that are separated by time in the future.  Humans, particularly imaginative humans, have a great capacity to visualize negative scenarios set in future times.  As depth psychotherapists know, such intense fear of the future generates untold agonies for many.  It can distort and cripple their entire response and attitude toward life.  This is a case where fear is not fitting into psyche at all, but rather is subverting it.

Is There Any Way Out of this Dilemma?

The human capacity to find meaning and value can enable us to find our way through even the most stressful and fearful of dilemmas, even the concentration camp, as Dr. Viktor Frankl has shown us, in his great book Man’s Search for Meaning.  As Albert Camus also said,

I have seen many people die because life for them was not worth living.  From this I conclude that the question of life’s meaning is the most urgent question of all.  [italics mine]

Aniela Jaffe, Jung’s close associate reminds us “the resilience of the self-aware and self-transforming consciousness can fortify us against the perils of the irrational and the rational, against the world within and the world without.”

In the second part of this post, we will explore how the the discovery of personal meaning in depth psychotherapy can help the individual cope with the reality of fear.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  ; Eli Christman ; flowcomm
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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